European Water Polo Competition
Hi to all of you water polo lovers. My name is Srdjan Miljanic, and I will be your voice and news correspondent from the pools around Europe. Every month you will be getting the most interesting information from water polo events throughout the Old Continent.
Another long and interesting season of the European water polo club competition has ended, and we can say that it brought us some new faces, new refreshing stories and quite a number of surprising results. Speaking of surprises, the biggest one happened in the most important game – the Euro league final (the final game of the competition where the best European professional clubs play).
This year’s final produced something that it’s rarely seen in the water polo scene – when in a thrilling final game, David beat the Goliath. The new European champion is the team of Primorac, from the picturesque Montenegrin city of Kotor. In the decisive game they defeated the European and why not say, the world’s dream team – famous Pro Recco from Italy. Before the Final Four tournament, which was held in Rijeka (Croatia), Primorac was considered to be the biggest underdog in comparison to other tree teams (two Croatian teams: Mladost Zagreb and Jug CO from Dubrovnik and the abovementioned Pro Recco from Italy). The story about David and the Goliath really stands up when we glance at the financial problems that Primorac was going through during the season and major drama (one of the top team players and Montenegrin national team player Mladjan Janovic – currently the boyfriend of Serbian top tennis player Jelena Jankovic, quit the team in mid season because of his disagreements with club management). Another interesting thing is that even the bus that was taking the team from Kotor to the tournament broke down after only 30km of road, and that they had to take the mini van taxis to arrive on time for the games. In spite all of that, Primorac showed everybody that the game is being played in the pool, and that great team spirit and high player motivation can sometimes substitute the difference in quality of play. It is necessary to point out also the big support of their fans called the “Bestije”. Over 300 of them came to watch the games, and produced fantastic support by singing and cheering their team throughout the game.
After a surprising win in the semifinal against home team of Mladost from Zagreb (11–9) nobody really believed that the guys from Kotor could win in the final, especially after Recco’s powerful performance in the other semifinal, where they easily crushed the reigning Croatian champion and Adriatic league winner Jug C.O. from Dubrovnik (9-6). But, the Primorac players evidently did. They entered strong in the match, decisive and giving their best effort, leading most of the game, neutralizing such water polo names like Kasas, Benedek and Udovicic. Pro Recco showed why it’s called the “dream team” in the final period, when they managed to catch the tree goal lead, but still didn’t manage to win the game in regular time. The game went to the extra time, hard defenses present on both sides, until the blast from the Hungarian national team player, Adam Steinmetz, from the Kotor team, in the man up situation, which made the final 8-7 for Primorac. After the final whistle from the referee, emotions exploded, both with players and fans – the first European title was came to Kotor! (You can watch all the games, and the medal ceremony here: www.lenfinal4.com/video.php )
In 2008, Montenegro national team won the European Championship title in Malaga, and now they’ve completed the success story with the european club title. This represents a great success for such a small country (only 600,000 residents), but a country where water polo has a great tradition, a special place in the fans hearts, and the status of being the #1 National Sport of Montenegro.
For all of you who are not familiar with the competition system in Europe, here are some remarks:
- EUROLEAGUE represents the top level competition of the best clubs in Europe. Most of the participants are the national champions from all European countries (but also some second and third places teams from the best championships – like Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, Hungary). The qualification rounds start in October, after which there is a group stage of four groups with four teams in each group. The group stage is followed by the quarterfinals and in the mid may the Final Four.
- The second important European club competition is the European LEN CUP – which is being played by the teams from the top of national competitions but not with the same quality as the ones in the Euroleague. It starts also in October, with qualification rounds, but it differs from the Euroleague system, in a way that it doesn’t have the group stage. Instead it works on the playoff system – starting from the eight finals up to the final matches on the two game bases (the main parameter deciding the overall winner is the goal difference between teams that played).
This year’s LEN Trophy produced also some great matches and surprising results. Winner of this year’s LEN Cup was the Hungarian club of Szeged Beton VE, as they overcame the Greek Panionios G.S.S. from Athens after a two game series which ended with a penalty shoot-out and a final result of 17-13 (first match in Athens on the 8th of April was 8-6 for Panionios). This was also the first European club title for the Hungarian team in its history.
Both of these European competitions are being played by women teams also. This year’s winner of the woman Champions Cup was the Vouliagmeni Nautical Club Sports Car from Greece, who won the final match against the team of ASD Orizzonte from Italy 12-9. In the women’s LEN Trophy competition, the title went to W.C. Shturm from Chekhov (Russia) after two game series with DF Delco Dunaujvaros from Hungary (14-11 and 11-12).
[Click the photo of Srdjan to learn more about his water polo experiences .]